This morning, I carried boxes of freshly filled canning jars to the basement shelves. The wonder of a job completed with satisfaction. These jars were filled with lengths of cucumbers layered among white onions and dill seed heads. I thought of all the canning I have done in my lifetime. The canning of tomatoes, tomato juice, homemade “V-8” juice, green beans, limas, beets, tenderloin pieces, applesauce, peaches, pears, grapes and grape juice. Not to mention all the things I have tried because my spouse likes pickled things—dilly beans, pickled green tomatoes, dilled onions and other foods too numerous to mention.
My mother was the first person who taught me how to can food. Her intention was to preserve whatever we could from our gardens so that good food would be available through the following winter. We canned for the purpose of providing food for the family. The second person who influenced the way I can is a dear friend. She taught me the added beauty of a jar carefully filled.
The jars we canned together were fit for the county fair. Each pickle or peach was carefully placed within the jar. Sometimes after we had canned together, I would bring one jar to the window sill in my kitchen. It was as though I had gathered a bouquet of flowers to shine brightly and beautifully as I washed dishes there at the window. Nowadays with another friend, I can purely for the beauty of the contents of those canning jars. And to have Grandma Wolford’s sweet pickle juice to add to my pimento cheese recipe.
Those canning jars come in all sizes from the tiny half-pints to wide-mouthed quart jars. The old Ball jars I still use are thick glass, easy to handle and pleasant to grasp. The ingredients change from time to time, depending upon what is available to preserve and what is desired by our family. Preservation, even of food, complements my way of living. Canning is a source of feeling self-reliant and an acknowledgement of being willing to work for what I want to have.
Canning. The work is healthy productivity and pleasurable time spent with the things I have grown and the dream of eating.Canning is an effort of providing nourishment for our bodies. And at least as a by-product, it is another way to create beauty and comfort.
Canning and containers. All this talk about canning brings to mind summer’s end and the beginning of fall and school. We are containers, canning jars if you will imagine. We are available to be filled with beauty and learning and new things. People around us have helped us and prodded us and directed us. Others have dreamed new possibilities alongside us. We are the produce of our communities and our families. We are the nourishment that will provide the future with hope and dreams of good things in the “winter-time” of our country.
Just think of those canning jars and containers that have been filled with the work of many hands during this summer season. Enjoy imagining what the winter meals will be like with the food from those jars. And think about considering yourself nourishment canned and saved for another time and place where you will do a good thing, where you will be just the beauty the world needs.
Rockingham County native Elaine H. McGann is an ordained Brethren minister and a licensed clinical psychologist. She lives near Hinton.